The Last Year in Jewish Technology

Once again The Jewish Week asked me to try and summarize the last year in technology from a Jewish angle. This was not an easy task since technology is increasingly so much a part of our lives and it affects all areas of our world including religion. I decided to come up with the ten big Jewish/Technology-related stories. What follows is what I submitted to The Jewish Week:

A few years ago when I was asked to start the Jewish Techs blog for The Jewish Week, I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough material to write about. After all, there are a lot of worthwhile news stories about technology and a lot of interesting topics in the Jewish world, but I wasn’t sure there would be enough areas of integration. Boy, was I wrong.

Image Source: RustyBrick

Religion in general and Judaism in particular are very much enmeshed in the field of technology. As our world becomes more dependent on technology, our Jewish lives are adapting as well. Jewish visionaries are at the head of the tech revolution and hi-tech innovation has been a driving force in Israel’s economic growth in the 21st century. The Internet and tech gadgets have revolutionized Jewish learning in ways never imagined before. A set of the Talmud that once occupied an entire shelf now resides on a Smartphone with full search capabilities. The Dead Sea Scrolls were once only available to those able to travel to Jerusalem, but they are now available to the world on the Web. And it is no longer unusual that the homebound are participating in High Holy Day services virtually.

In early January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jewish technology leaders featured prominently. CES is produced by the Consumer Electronics Association led by Gary Shapiro, whose new book Ninja Innovation is sure to become a best seller in the tech world. Through the convention halls of CES were Jewish owners of technology stores and companies, inventors, and industry leaders. Innovators from Israel were seen making deals with investors, a daily minyan was convened, and the Las Vegas Chabad supervised a lunch stand.

In 2012 there were many Jewish-related stories in technology. I put together a list of the top ten stories of the year (in no particular order). To stay informed about the intersection of Jewish life and technology this year, connect with the Jewish Techs blog at http://thejewishweek.com/blogs/jewish-techs.

1. ISRAEL’S GAZA WAR AND SOCIAL MEDIA
For the first time in Israel’s existence the country waged a parallel war on the Internet. During its military situation in Gaza, the IDF focused part of its attention on social networking uploading videos of its operation to YouTube, informing its following on Facebook and posting a barrage of updates to Twitter.

2. SUPER STORM SANDY, SYNAGOGUES AND THE SOCIAL NETWORKS
The East Coast’s found itself challenged by super storm Sandy for several weeks. Synagogues in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut used social media to keep its congregants informed about everything from relief efforts to places to recharge cellphones and alternative locations of Shabbat services. During the week-long power outages, some synagogues had life-cycle events like weddings and bar mitzvahs to contend with.

3. AGUNA CASE HITS FACEBOOK
A drawn out, messy divorce case quickly went from a private matter to a world-wide public debate. Aharon Friedman, a staffer for a Michigan congressman, refused to grant his ex-wife Tamar Epstein a Jewish divorce. Online petitions and then a highly trafficked Facebook page put pressure on Friedman, including a call for him to be summarily fired. It was the first time a Jewish domestic dispute had gone to social networking to be resolved.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA’S INFLUENCE DURING THE ELECTION
Jewish Republican voters have been growing their ranks and looking to the Internet to try to convince their Democratic co-religionists. Never before has social media been so influential in a presidential election. Friends were attacking friends on Facebook for their political views. News articles and YouTube videos were posted on each other’s Facebook walls. Back-and-forth tweets were shot around Cyberspace debating whether President Obama or Governor Romney would be the better choice for Israel.

5. APPLE’S QUESTIONABLE JERUSALEM STATUS
The popular computer and phone company found itself being questioned by pro-Israel supporters for neglecting to associate Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on its faulty map application. When Apple released its new operating system, iOS6, it didn’t show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel although every other country on the map had its capital listed.

6. JEWISH LED GOOGLE AVOIDS CHARGES IT’S A MONOPOLY
Microsoft and a coalition of niche search engines accused Google, founded by Jewish Internet gurus Sergei Brin and Larry Page, of unfair search practices for prominently displaying some results at the top of some inquiries. Google, which began as an Internet search company but has ventured into many other sectors, spent the better part of the year fighting those accusations. The Federal Trade Commission absolved Google of monopoly accusations early in 2013 for prioritizing its own products in search results

7. WAZE APP AND SALE RUMORS
The biggest tech story coming out of Israel this year was about a little GPS app company called Waze. The mobile app, featuring turn-by-turn navigation was developed by the Israeli start-up Waze Mobile and differs from traditional GPS navigation software because its community-driven. The app learns from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates. When Apple’s mapping application had flaws, Apple’s CEO recommended that iPhone users download Waze. After growing to more than 40 million users in 2012 there were rumors that Facebook and then Apple were interested in buying Waze (for some $40 billion), but neither deal panned out.

8. DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND SCHOTTENSTEIN TALMUD GO VIRTUAL
If asked what two collections from the Jewish textual tradition would be most beneficial in a fully searchable, digital format scholars would come to consensus over the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud. The Israel Museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, a partnership with Google, launched in 2012 allows users to examine and explore the most ancient manuscripts from Second Temple times at a level of detail never imagined before. Five Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized so far and they can be searched through queries on Google.com. What had been hidden and lost in a cave for generations are now online for the world to see.

Earlier this year, Artscroll announced the launch of the ArtScroll Digital Library and the first mobile app they will launch will be the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud. The app will offer all of the necessary tools students of the Talmud would want as they study and debate the ancient text. The app was produced by Rusty Brick and features page syncing, place tracking, extra hand, page fusion, hybrid page, floating translation, quick scroll, integrated notes, and page mapping color coding. The Apple version is already available and an Android version is expected to be released this year.

9. RALLY AGAINST INTERNET AT CITI FIELD
In May, more than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a sellout rally in Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The attendees came to protest the growth of the Internet, which they believe is a moral detriment to their religious way of life. Rabbis spoke to the crowd about the perils of the Internet and cautioned those who are required to use the Internet for their work to use a filter so as to avoid unseemly content.

10. TEXTING HIGH HOLIDAY SERVICES
Rosh Hashanah 2012 marked the first time that several rabbis around the country encouraged their congregants to take out their SmartPhones and use them. In most congregations, participants were reminded to put their tech gadgets away, but in some synagogues like Rabbi Amy Morrison’s Reform temple in Miami Beach she told the worshippers to “Take those phones out.” This innovation was seen as a way to engage the crowd of digitally connected 20- to 30-year-olds. No doubt tweeting and texting during religious services will only become more prevalent in the years to come, right or wrong.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel’s Gaza Situation Becomes Cyber War

Social media changes the zeitgeist in ways we couldn’t have imagined. As we saw with the recent presidential election, opinions and attacks now travel at the speed of light. And so it should be no surprise that the ongoing Middle East conflict in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis has escalated into a Cyber war.

While the conflict may seem like history repeating itself, social media is actually changing the way the public sees the violence. As several news agencies have reported,Israel is now using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to its advantage in its war with Hamas in Gaza. In the past Israel has had to rely upon mainstream news agencies to report on the back-and-forth actions in Gaza, but now the Israeli military and government can take its message straight to the people using its social networks.

As the LA Times reported today:

While Israel launched its surprise attack Wednesday on Gaza, it declared it to the world on Twitter, arguing its case for the new campaign against Hamas in less than 140 characters.

Minute by minute, the Israel Defense Forces fed followers information and arguments on the strike. At their computers, Internet users could click through aerial photos, check updates on the offensive and watch a YouTube video of the strike killing the Hamas military chief.

At one point, the Israeli military traded Twitter barbs with Hamas. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the @IDFSpokesperson account tweeted Wednesday.

The Hamas military wing tweeted back, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

Israel Defense Forces Twitter Account

Social media isn’t new to the IDF, but the way it’s now using such sites as Twitter is new and will likely become the way nation-states will operate in military conflicts. It is clear that the chief spokesman of the IDF, Yoav Mordechai, believes that tweeting the operation in Gaza is a good weapon in its hasbara (public relations) struggle. Israel has always been challenged by negative PR in the mainstream media. Mordechai’s office even used Twitter to send a warning to its Hamas enemies, tweeting, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” The IDF’s Twitter feed has been continually updated with news, pictures and videos from the front lines using the Twitter “hashtag” #PillarOfDefense. Perhaps the Cyber war really became a reality when Hamas’ military wing responded with return fire on Twitter, tweeting back, “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.”

In addition to the IDF’s new found use of Twitter, sites like YouTube (operated by Google) have had to navigate their way through the new murky waters of whether the postings by the IDF of their military operations are deemed “kosher” according to its own terms of service agreement. Originally Google yanked a video posted by the Israeli military Wednesday, which showed the “pinpoint strike” that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in his car. YouTube originally had a message on the removed video stating, “This clip has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. Sorry about that.”

However, YouTube apparently changed its corporate mind and allowed the video to be shown. A company spokesperson explained, “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” Most likely enough anti-Israel YouTube users had flagged the video triggering a review process until someone at YouTube could view the video in question and make the decision. By reinstating the video, YouTube opened up a whole new front in this war.

Israel Defense Forces Facebook Page

In taking the Middle East conflict to the Web, the opportunity for hacking has also been escalated. So it was no surprise early yesterday morning when a hacker group called “Anonymous” announced a mission to crash and deface websites belonging to the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli websites belonging to security and financial corporations. Using Twitter, the hacking group urged its followers to bring down more than 40 websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a statement, the hackers stated, “We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you. We will use all our resources to make certain you stay connected to the Internet and remain able to transmit your experiences to the world.” Already the hacker group has claimed to have taken down Israeli’s “top security and surveillance website.” They also released a “care package” with tools for staying online if the Israeli government cuts off Internet access in Gaza. Another hacker group called Telecomix posted a message online with instructions on how to use dial-up Internet to stay connect if the Web is shut down. According to Forbes.com, most of the Anonymous’ target websites were still online.

Another new front of the Middle East war in Gaza has been the public discourse on social networking sites. As soon as the conflict escalated advocates on both sides of the conflict began using Facebook to show their support. Pro-Israel supporters began simply updating their Facebook status with the Hebrew words עם ישראל חי (Am Yisra’el Chai) meaning “The nation of Israel lives.” Other Facebook and Twitter users reposted news reports of the direct hit on the Gaza leader and reminded their followers that the news coverage of the conflict has not accurate covered the escalation as thousands of missiles had already been fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, in a show of support many users on Facebook began posting photos of IDF soldiers from visits to the Jewish homeland.

On Twitter, #Gaza and #Jerusalem have been trending off and on over the past few days and many heated back-and-forth conversations have taken place on the site. The IDF’s Flickr site has also seen a huge uptick in traffic with many users reposting photos from that stream to their own Pinterest boards. Additionally, the IDF’s Facebook page has noticed a sharp increase in fans approaching a quarter million. The IDF page’s recent status was “Shabbat Shalom from the IDF. We won’t be able to rest until we bring quiet to Israel.”

The long-simmering conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be the first test of the social media zeitgeist. Newspapers and television news outlets are still relevant, but this will go down as the first war that was also played out in real time on the Web. In the social media era, anyone and everyone can become a reporter. And the millions of vehement opinions will likely only raise the heat of this escalating conflict.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at the Jewish Week

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Revolutionizes the Birthday Greeting

Hallmark Cards, Inc. estimates that greeting card sales have plummeted from 6 billion to 5 billion annually over the past decade. Earlier this month, the nation’s top greeting card maker announced it will close a plant that made one-third of its greeting cards and terminate over 300 jobs.

This news should come as no surprise for Facebook users who use the social networking site to wish friends “Happy Birthday” or leave a comment of condolence after the death of a loved one. Facebook now boasts 1 billion users world-wide, and for many of those users the custom of offering birthday greetings has changed.

Humans have been wishing each other birthday greetings for millennia. Even in the Torah there is mention of a birthday celebration (Pharaoh), but over the years, the way in which we mark each other’s birthday milestones has changed. Never has this change been as drastic as in recent years as Facebook usage has increased exponentially. While individuals still send paper birthday cards to close friends and relatives on their birthday, many transitioned to online greeting cards as the Web developed. (Hallmark’s main rival company, American Greetings, is adding jobs now because of its move to online birthday cards.) Picking up the phone to call our best friends and relatives on their birthday is still practiced, but it is also now acceptable to send an email or text message of birthday greetings as well.

Where Facebook has become the “killer app” and disruptor in the culture of sending birthday greetings is in its birthday feature on the sidebar. Each day beginning at midnight Facebook updates the birthday events box on each user’s sidebar alerting the user to birthdays being celebrated on that day. Prior to this feature individuals had to rely on their own information in an address book or birthdays manually inputted into a calendar. These daily reminders are appreciated by active Facebook users as forgetting birthdays is now mostly a thing of the past.

At first Facebook simply listed the friends celebrating birthdays on that day in the sidebar box, but within the past couple years the company realized how prevalent the custom of posting birthday greetings on friends’ Facebook Walls had become and instituted a simpler way of posting. Now users are given a text box next to each birthday celebrant’s name to easily leave a birthday greeting or wish. Past and future birthdays are also listed on the Facebook user’s calendar. Earlier this month, Facebook began showing friends’ birthdays at the top of its mobile site with a gift icon next to the birthday celebrant’s name. Clicking through this icon allows the user to send a birthday gift with Facebook taking a cut of the profit.

With Facebook’s assistance people are now wishing “Happy Birthday” to people whose birthdays they historically wouldn’t have acknowledged (long lost elementary school classmates and former colleagues), but some say it hasn’t changed the way they still mark the milestones of close friends. “Facebook doesn’t change the way I handle birthdays I always acknowledged in the past, but I still like to send paper birthday cards to my close family and a few friends. But I do offer birthday greetings to many of my Facebook friends — it takes but a moment, and I think they enjoy it,” said Bobbie Lewis of Oak Park.

Jacob Zuppke of Bloomfield Hills also uses Facebook to wish his large cohort of Facebook connections a birthday wishes. “Facebook reminds me every day someone is getting older. There are very few birthdays I store in my calendar, but with Facebook, I never miss a birthday.” Zuppke acknowledges that the standard Facebook birthday greeting can be impersonal. “I use Facebook as a calendar for birthdays. If I see it is someone close to me, I will call them or find a way to visit them. I don’t use Facebook to actually communicate with anyone close to me for a special day.”

Joey Niskar, an attorney who lives in West Bloomfield, has made the offering of birthday wishes via Facebook part of his daily regimen. “Every day, I check the automatic birthday notifications provided by Facebook and send a nice happy birthday wish to each Facebook friend celebrating a birthday on that particular day. For the other Facebook friends who may be old friends, a happy birthday wish via Facebook is very meaningful.”

RESPONDING TO BIRTHDAYS

What is the protocol in responding to the barrage of birthday wishes Facebook users now receive annually? Lewis explained, “For those who send Facebook birthday greetings to me, I usually offer a generic response to all unless the birthday message is something more interesting and personal than “Happy Birthday.’ I know some people dislike this aspect of Facebook, but I don’t mind it.” For Zuppke, with over 3,000 Facebook connections including many he doesn’t know or speak with on a regular basis, responding with one mass message at the end of the day thanking the group as a whole is sufficient.

When it is Sherry Kanter’s birthday she simply acknowledges friends’ greetings with the ‘Like’ button. “I try to respond personally to as many as I can. It is a great way to keep in touch with people,” the Huntington Woods resident said.

“I think most people have come to realize that a group thank you at the end of the day or the next morning is quite appropriate,” reasoned Dave Henig of Sylvan Lake. “With the volume of wishes that I assume most people get, it becomes impractical to respond individually.”

OTHER GREETINGS ON FACEBOOK

Birthday wishes may be the most common form of greeting on Facebook, but the site is used to offer other forms of milestone greetings as well. From engagements and weddings to new babies and wedding anniversaries, millions of Facebook users share their news with their networks on the site and receive comments in response. “If someone mentions on Facebook they’re celebrating something important I don’t hesitate to offer a ‘mazel tov’ comment. Condolences following a death are a little trickier,” Lewis says. “For people with whom I communicate mostly by Facebook, it seems appropriate, but I always write a personal message too. And if they don’t want to receive condolences via Facebook, they shouldn’t be announcing their loss on Facebook. For close friends and acquaintances, I still send paper cards or make a tribute gift in their loved one’s memory.”

With Facebook, birthday celebrants who once received only a handful of phone calls on their birthday now get hundreds of wishes annually. That can be a nice gift. As Niskar observed, “By notifying me of birthdays and allowing me to wish each person a ‘Happy Birthday,’ Facebook has enabled me to nourish my connection to old friends at least once per year. It makes the other person feel good, which in turn makes me happy.”

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s Detroit Roots

I’ve been following Rabbi Yonah Bookstein for several years now. He’s a little more than 6 years my senior and I suppose I’ve looked up to him as a social media guru in the virtual Jewish community of the Web. I learned about his Detroit roots from a blog post he published back in September 2008 following a “Young Detroit in Hollywood” event that took place in California for Jewish expats of Michigan. He wrote:

Jewish Ex-Detroiters like myself have a religious attachement [sic] to our hometown. We have a tight-knit Jewish community, allegiance to local sports teams, and favorite bakeries, cafes, or delis. (Notice the absence of any allegiance to a synagogue or temple). When we leave Detroit, we leave close family back home – grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, siblings and cousins. We get back for family events when we can. We try to keep up with the Tigers or Pistons. We root for U of M at the Rose Bowl. We often are connected to other Detroiters who made the move out here before us.

The Jews who left West Bloomfield, Birmingham, Southfield, or Bloomfield Hills, left for the greener pastures of Hollywoodland. Most are going to stay and put down roots. My Detroiter street cred: Zeemans [sic], Hillel Day School, Cranbrook, grandma at The Heritage, Tigers, Camp Tavor – I won’t mention the Synagogue.

I appreciated Rabbi Yonah’s honesty in that post and I let him know it. But I also made certain to inform him that Jewish Detroit was making a comeback and it was legit. Since that time almost 4 years ago, we’ve maintained a nice relationship through our blogs, projects, and Twitter. We regularly shmooze (virtually of course) about Detroit sports, and he will often ask me to weigh in on certain Detroit-specific issues.

The local Jewish newspaper, the Detroit Jewish News, often features young Jewish leaders who have returned to Detroit. I thought it would be interesting to look at someone like Rabbi Yonah with Detroit roots and no intention to return to Detroit, but an unwavering attachment to his hometown. So, two months ago I sent an email to the publisher and editor of the Detroit Jewish News: “Did you know Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is from Detroit and went to Cranbrook? He’s the guy behind Jewlicious. Might make for an interesting article. Maybe Robin Schwartz?”

Robin Schwartz’s story about Rabbi Yonah and his Detroit roots is featured on the cover of this week’s issue. Here it is:

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein recalls picking up a guitar for the first time at age 10, in the late 1970s, as a Hillel Day School student growing up in Detroit’s Palmer Woods neighborhood.

His late father, Marvin Bookstein — a bluegrass musician who played six different instruments — taught young Yonah the fundamentals, opening his eyes and ears to the beauty and power of music. He spent his early years attending concerts, going to Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, and attending chamber music festivals; so it’s fitting that Bookstein, now 42, of Los Angeles is the force behind Jewlicious. The nonprofit organization hosts hip seasonal music festivals in California that attract hundreds of young Jews from across the country.

“Music unifies and inspires people,” Bookstein says. “One of the reasons I got so into creating musical events is that music was an integral part of my life as a child.”
Bookstein’s family has deep roots in Metro Detroit. His father, grandfather and greatgrandfather all owned Ace Furniture Co.; the decades-old family business was sold in 1979. Bookstein attended high school and graduated from Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills. He was active in the Jewish Socialist-Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror and spent summers at its Camp Tavor near Kalamazoo.

Bookstein left town to attend the University of Oregon and Oxford University, was ordained by Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in New York and is a former Fulbright Fellow to Poland. In the 1990s, he and his wife, Rachel, worked for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Poland. They founded Jewish youth centers in Krakow and Lodz, revived the Jewish Community Center in Warsaw, established the annual Warsaw Jewish Book Festival and created a center for adult Jewish education. Since returning to the United States, Bookstein’s focus has been uniting and inspiring young Jews across the country, first as a campus rabbi and now as director of Jewlicious. He has four children: Moshe, 13, Sophia, 11, Shlomo, 9, and Naftali, 5.

“I believe passionately in the Jewish future, and young people are the inspiration,” he says. “Our overall goal is to increase participation in Jewish life.”

The concept of Jewlicious was created in a garage in Long Beach, Calif., in 2005. The first festival attracted about 100 people, and the crowds have grown bigger and bigger each year. One event is held each summer; a second festival takes place each winter on an old cruise ship.

“It’s a mash up of a music festival and a conference, and it has about 90 programs over the course of three days,” Bookstein explains. “Everything from Jewish yoga to conversations with famous Jewish actors — it’s a pluralistic weekend with all kinds of offerings.

Tickets are currently on sale for the third annual SummerFest Music and Summer Camp Festival Aug. 16-19 in Brandeis, Calif., which has been described as “Jewish summer camp for grownups.” The event includes concerts, speakers, horseback riding, rock climbing, midnight hikes, bonfires, swimming, yoga, wine and pickle making, and more.

“We get people from 20 states and 50 colleges and universities,” Bookstein says. “It’s a really amazing pilgrimage.” Tickets range from $60-$175 for the weekend.

Participants can camp out or pay more for a room in a bunk or cottage. Right now, these events only take place in California, but Bookstein’s goal is to take the show on the road and host Jewlicious Festivals across the country. He already creates Shabbat hospitality tents at national music festivals. He’s also a member of the band Shankbone, which performs Jewish and Indie music a few times a year.

“Young people love festivals, and they love music,” he says. “We’ve created this platform, and it really could be replicated all over the country.

“I know Detroit because I grew up there. The Jewish community in Detroit has always been more cohesive, but in other places there’s a huge amount of assimilation. There’s an unengaged population of young Jews.

We’re only tipping the scales somewhat; there are so many people to reach and so many people to engage. It’s a huge undertaking.”

Bookstein relies heavily on social media to get his message out. His Jewlicious.com blog is said to be the Internet’s most-read Jewish blog. He also has podcast classes on Judaism on iTunes, more than 5,000 “friends” on Facebook and more than 8,000 followers on Twitter. In 2009, he was the top vote-getter in the Jewish Federation of North America’s inaugural Jewish Community Heroes Award, receiving more than 90,000 online votes.

“I’ve made it my focus to connect with young people,” Bookstein says. “If I want to be relevant and reach the constituency I believe is so critical to our future, I need to be engaged in social media on a daily and hourly basis.”

Rabbi Jason Miller, a local Jewish leader, entrepreneur and president of Access Computer Technology in West Bloomfield, follows Bookstein on the Web. Miller has his own blog, RabbiJason.com, and thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers. He believes the “traditional borders of the global Jewish community have disappeared through globalization and new technology.” The two rabbis are in regular communication online, but have not yet met in person.

“Yonah is one of these Jewish thought leaders of the social media age,” Miller says. “I read his blog regularly, and we mutually re-post and ‘retweet’ each other’s content because we run in the same social media circles. Yonah has an immense Twitter following and strong social clout, but it’s the way he uses those to push the boundaries of the ‘Jewish establishment’ that has really earned my respect. Not only is he a change agent helping the Israeli and Diaspora communities to think outside the box, but he also exudes a contagious form of excitement and optimism. I hope to meet him IRL (in real life) soon.”

Rabbi Bookstein tries to get back to Michigan at least once a year to visit friends and family members. Last summer, he brought his friend, Chasidic reggae singer Matisyahu, to the Motor City Moishe House in Detroit. The communal home for young adults offers subsidized housing and is meant to breathe new Jewish life into the city. At least 50 people showed up to meet Matisyahu and share a kosher meal before his concert at St. Andrews Hall.

After the visit, Bookstein wrote an article for the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles. In part, it reads: “When I was growing up in Detroit in the 1970s and ’80s, the notion that Jews would return to the city — literally the areas of old Detroit that housed the core of the community for a hundred years — was a remote fantasy. The community had been moving to the suburbs since the 1950s… However, Detroit’s Jewish community, who live almost entirely in the suburbs, is not ready to give up on a city that has such a rich and vibrant Jewish past.”

Just as Detroit is trying to revitalize and reinvigorate Jewish life locally, Bookstein is working to generate excitement and increase participation among young Jews nationwide. Jewlicious is attempting to win a Chase and LivingSocial grant of $250,000 through an online contest to further Bookstein’s efforts.

“Like everybody in the nonprofit sector, it’s challenging to fund these programs and meet the financial demands of creating these kinds of opportunities for young adults,” he says. “[Young Jews] care about their Jewish future and want to be a part of it. Business is booming. There’s a huge demand for what we do.”

While Rabbi Yonah might not be planning on a return to his hometown of Detroit, it is important for Detroiters to know that such an important figure who is making the future of American Jewry fun and exciting and vibrant got his start here. Deep down he wants to see the Jewish community of Detroit succeed and he has much insight to offer. I’m glad that Robin’s article will bring Rabbi Yonah and his energy a little closer to home.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Detroit Jewish Nonprofit Competes in Facebook Contest to Win $250,000

Thousands in Metro Detroit’s Jewish community have been flocking to Home Depot’s Facebook page in recent weeks. No, they are not all interested in becoming fans of the national retail giant. They are simply trying to help a local social service agency win $250,000 from the Home Depot Foundation.

Jewish Family Service in Michigan was one of 12 nonprofits around the country to win a monthly prize of $25,000 cash and another $5,000 in Home Depot gift cards from the Home Depot Foundation this past January. That win put them in the competition for the Aprons in Action contest that will give away a total of a half-million dollars in March. JFS plans to use the cash prize for its Project Build! program, which provides JFS clients with safe and barrier-free homes through pro bono repairs and renovations provided by local builders, remodelers and suppliers.

While many nonprofits in the Jewish community are still trying to find their way in the new world of social media, online contests like the Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action have pushed nonprofit organizations to create a social media strategy to get out the vote on Facebook, the social networking site that boasts more than 850 million users.

Retail giants like Target and Home Depot, as well as large corporations like Toyota and Ford Motor Company, have drawn millions of Facebook users to their corporate and foundation “Fan Pages” through their online contests.

These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to familiarize themselves with such 21st-century terms as “social clout,” “social analytics,” “network amplification,” “true reach” and “social media influence.” Additionally, these nonprofits that compete in the contests have to quickly bolster their own online social identity to broadcast their participation in the contest. Many of these nonprofits are trying to raise their online presence on a shoestring budget, if they have allocated any marketing funds to social media at all.

In most cases, competing in such online contests is a gamble for the nonprofits because they don’t know what their return on investment will be, and they are allocating a lot of resources, including staff time, to the cause. JFS has recruited Jewish professionals and lay leaders in the community to reach out to their own networks to encourage daily voting on the Home Depot Foundation Facebook page during March. Local members of the Jewish community were asked to include reminders on their social networking sites and in email signatures. Some also participate in “post-a-thons,” where volunteers gather at a site and recruit voters via laptop postings. Additionally, JFS offered a daily email reminder service to increase its odds of securing the most votes.

“The Home Depot contest, as well as our success last summer at winning Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition, has made us aware that everything we do needs to have a social media layer,” explained Perry Ohren, CEO of JFS. “This has profound meaning in terms of our timing and our message. Timing has to be instantaneous and our message has to be short and engaging.”

One organization that has found much success in using its social reach to garner the votes needed to win online contests is Chabad Lubavitch. The international organization headquartered in Brooklyn exploits social networking not only to broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, have used Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in national contests for six- figure grants by Chase Community Giving and Target Stores.

In a Facebook contest sponsored by Kohl’s Cares, 12 Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with 11 of those schools being Chabad-affiliated. Friendship Circle of Michigan, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote.

Through these online contests, major corporations are able to donate funds to social service organizations, but it’s not completely altruistic. After all, the corporations are attracting a lot of attention to their brand. In the case of Home Depot, they are able to get thousands of people to visit their Facebook page each day for a month and look at their corporate logo, even if it is subliminal advertising. That is valuable advertising for the company and the half-million dollar investment is a small fraction of the retail giant’s more than $1 billion advertising budget.

Foundations for these large companies, like the Home Depot Foundation, have to make large charitable gifts each year so they figure they should at least help promote their corporate brand in the process.

Regardless of the motivation behind these online contests, it is certain that they have been the driving force in getting nonprofits to focus more on social media strategies. Hopefully, when there’s no large cash prize at the end of the rainbow, nonprofits will continue to utilize social media to promote theircause, raise awareness about their mission and solicit donations.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News and posted on the eJewishPhilanthropy.com blog

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Non-Profits and Social Media – Do They Get It?

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

As a rabbi who is a social mediaologist, I find myself consulting a lot of synagogues and Jewish nonprofits on their social media strategy. The leaders of these institutions all recognize that they require a social media strategy, but the plan for how it will be implemented varies greatly.

Many synagogues in 2012 have yet to budget for social media marketing so they look for the quickest and cheapest solution. In most cases this comprises of identifying a volunteer lay person or existing staff member who is willing and able to set up the congregation’s social media presence across the major networks. In some instances this is a teen who claims to be a Facebook wiz and over-promises and under-delivers. With many volunteers, congregations often get what they pay for.

Synagogues and Jewish nonprofits are jumping on the social media bandwagon, but are they taking the initiative seriously enough?

Jewish organizations seem to be a little further ahead than synagogues in the social media department. Third party retailers like Target and Home Depot have forced nonprofit institutions to get on the social media bandwagon quickly because of their online contests in which the retailer partners with nonprofits for fundraising prizes. These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to bolster their social identity online to compete in the contests.

While businesses in the for-profit world have allocated serious funds to their online marketing initiative, the nonprofit world is still light-years behind. That should be no surprise because nonprofits often take a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to change.

Robert Evans and Avrum Lapin recently wrote on the eJewishPhilanthropy blog about an unofficial survey they conducted to investigate how Jewish nonprofits are “utilizing social media and how it enables them to meet the demands that they and their leaders are facing.” From the outset, they assert that the picture is not entirely positive and quote a synagogue software system developer lamenting that “most of the Jewish world seems frozen in the 20th century when it comes to being technologically advanced.”

Our recent survey demonstrated a significant lack of human or dollar resources invested by Jewish groups into Facebook and Twitter. Very few synagogues even seem to have any presence on Facebook or Twitter, although they all have websites, many of which are reasonably interactive. Robyn Cimbol, director of development at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El, noted that her congregation was probably the first Jewish congregation to have a website but today they have no specific plans to foster Facebook or Twitter activities, citing other pressing priorities and no apparent demands from their 2,800 member households. “We have limited staff resources and capabilities for this,” she noted, “but we are gearing up ultimately to recognize social media as one communications opportunity,” she told us. She did emphasize that “a number of staff members do use Face Book [sic]… to communicate with specific constituents but it is not used Temple-wide.”

Facebook reports that 89% of 1.3 million U.S. nonprofit organizations boast a social networking presence, offering opportunities potentially for fundraising. However, fundraising on Facebook is still a “minority effort,” despite recent gains.

The authors of the study recognize that the Jewish nonprofits that have succeeded the most in social media marketing have been those that have participated in social fundraisers with third parties, such as mega-retailers or major foundations. Many organizations that find themselves competing in these online social fundraisers have allocated staff time or in some cases hired dedicated part-time staff to manage these initiatives (if they win there is a good return on investment).

The Jewish Education Project and JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute (in partnership with UJA Federation of New York) have launched the Jewish Futures Competition, which will dole out $1,800 prizes for Jewish nonprofits to advance their social media identities. As more synagogues and Jewish nonprofits become more focused on bolstering their social media exposure (moving from building their fan base on a Facebook page to increasing their brand amplification through likes, comments and shares), they will integrate their email marketing (Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.) and online fundraising (Razoo, CauseCast, DonorPages, etc.) into their social networking.

Evans and Lapin’s study demonstrates that nonprofits do understand the value in using social networks for fundraising. “According to this year’s Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, four out of five nonprofit organizations find social networks a ‘valuable’ fundraising option.” However, these same nonprofits aren’t able to quantify why that is. It is important to remember that social media is still in its infancy. As it grows (and its exponential growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon), more synagogues and nonprofits will get on board by allocating the necessary resources to its success.

As they say, the “proof is in the pudding” and the ROI will be noticeable for the synagogues and Jewish nonprofits who dedicate the necessary time and resources to building their brand/mission exposure through social media. Change is never easy and the nonprofit world is more risk averse when it comes to technological innovation. At least the conversations about social media integration are taking place in the Jewish nonprofit world, and the studies are showing that a realization exists that this is a necessary form of communication, marketing and fundraising in the 21st century.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Advice from Nuns

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

As Social Media has become more popular over the past few years, an emerging field of study and consulting has emerged. All of a sudden everyone is a social media maven. The youngest employee (or intern) at law offices, accounting firms, medical practices, restaurants and non-profit organizations suddenly become the in-house social media experts charged with the task of creating Facebook pages and keeping them updated.

In most cases, it’s best to leave the social media marketing to the experts. However, there are times when advice comes from unusual places. Bernhard Warner, writing in AdAge Digital, shows that nuns in Rome may be able to teach us a lot more about social media than we probably thought. Warner, the director at the editorial consultancy Custom Communication, writes:

The power of creativity. I have to admit it’s only recently that I began looking into what religious orders, charities and religious NGOs are doing in the area of social media. What particular impresses me is the genuineness of their approach and the creativity with which they use to lay out tough messages — sacrifice, vocation, mercy, charity — in a medium filled with a lot of distractions for the typical social media user. What do I mean? Look at the tweets of Sister Christine Ereiser, a Benedictine nun from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s active on Twitter and is avid podcaster. By the way, her order, the Benedictine Sisters, is engaging, humorous and even cheeky at times. Go sisters! Finally, I have to point out the pioneering work of Sister Julie from Chicago, a podcaster, blogger and founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry. She provides a fascinating insight into a community of nuns that we don’t often get to see: they are avid content creators, active networkers, and, yes, very geeky!

Warner walks us through the ways in which these nuns can guide us trhough our social media usage with ethics, commitment and values. So, don’t discount advice on social media from unusual places. But that doesn’t mean that you should let the intern or a high school volunteer quarterback your social media campaign- either.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media and Religion

I read yesterday’s article in the NY Times about how people are interacting with religion through social networking sites like Facebook and was amazed at the success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page. It is one of the most popular Facebook pages with over 8.5 million fans. I figured there should be a similar Facebook page that offers users a daily dose of Torah wisdom so I created the Torah Daily Facebook page this morning. The page quickly amassed 100 followers and will continue to grow. The Torah Daily Facebook page will offer daily inspiration from Jewish texts provided by anyone with some wisdom to share.

Here is the blog post I published on The NY Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog after reading yesterday’s NY Times article on social media and religion:

With about a billion users between Facebook and Twitter alone, more topics than just Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are being discussed on social media networks today. Religion is certainly one of them.

An article by Jennifer Preston in yesterday’s NY Times (“Jesus Daily on Facebook Nurtures Highly Active Fans”) reports that “while it’s too early to say that social media have transformed the way people practice religion, the number of people discussing faith on Facebook has significantly increased in the last year, according to company officials. Over all, 31 percent of Facebook users in the United States list a religion in their profile, and 24 percent of users outside the United States do, Facebook says. More than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious.”

The article was prompted by the wild success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page, which was launched by a diet doctor from North Carolina who posts a few motivational quotes from Jesus each day. The Facebook page, created by Dr. Aaron Tabor, has close to 8.5 million fans and, according to AllFacebook.com, in the past three months has had more daily interaction (likes and comments) than the official Justin Bieber page with 3.4 million interactions last week alone.

There are now over 750 million people on Facebook so it shouldn’t be surprising that users are interacting with pages to find an online spiritual community. If you’re already navigating around the Facebook site on a computer, tablet or mobile phone it’s much easier to read a spiritual teaching in your news feed than to actually attend a synagogue or church service.

Rabbi Laura Baum, a social media maven who is part of OurJewishCommunity.org was quoted in the article explaining how social media has changed our lives. She said, “There are those people who prefer to check out our tweets on their phone or listen to our podcast. I don’t think the use of technology needs to be for everybody. But we have found a community online. Many of them have never felt a connection to Judaism before.”

An increasing number of synagogues have found that it is much easier to connect to the membership through a Facebook page than through a traditional website. Like a website, the Facebook page is an efficient way of disseminating information for a congregation, but it adds the social interaction features that promote community and have made Facebook the killer app of social media. Linda Jacobson, the president of start-up congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Michigan has used Facebook to connect with members and reach potential members. “Our website is great for publicizing calendar events, displaying photos and telling visitors about our congregation. But Facebook goes well beyond that,” Jacobson explained. “It allows our followers to interact with that information and with each other. There’s an entire ‘backchannel’ that brings people together virtually to share photos from our congregational programming, comment on lifecycle events, create sub-communities based on interest categories and coordinate meals when there’s a death in the congregation.”

Jacobson seems to have put social media to good use because she’s seen her congregation’s membership rolls steadily increase over the past year. Rev. Kenneth Lillard, author of “Social Media and Ministry: Sharing the Gospel in the Digital Age,” was also quoted in the NY Times article and he concurs that social media tools like YouTube, Twitter and Google Plus in addition to Facebook represent “the best chance for religious leaders to expand their congregations since the printing press helped Martin Luther usher in the Protestant Reformation.”

Beyond official synagogue Facebook pages, there are many ways in which users are looking to Facebook for spiritual insight and education. Some popular Facebook pages have been created by rabbis in an effort to share motivational teachings from the Torah. Rabbi David Wolpe, the popular author and spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has a Facebook page that boasts over 19,000 fans. Wolpe utilizes Facebook to offer short sound bites that both motivate and challenge his readers. He makes a point of trying to respond to all questions on the page as well, which is not an easy task for a busy pulpit rabbi and a highly sought-after speaker like Wolpe. One follower asked if the rabbi had any marriage advice to which Wolpe responded simply “Shared values; forgiveness; deep attraction; resilience; luck; faith.”

One thing that social networking sites like Facebook have demonstrated is that one need not be an official religious leader, like a priest or rabbi, to dispense wisdom to help guide people in their daily lives. Many individuals and businesses offer a daily prayer or spiritual teaching to inspire their followers on their Facebook pages. Some Facebook users may post an inspirational teaching as a status update. There are businesses that post weekly motivational quotes on their Facebook page as a way to engage their following.

As social media increasingly become part of our daily lives, people will find new ways to interact with religion and spirituality. For some, it may be interacting with like-minded people on a synagogue Facebook page. For others it may be learning a different Talmud text each day through a Twitter feed. In the Digital Age, a minority of virtual religionists will emerge. These will be individuals who do not affiliate with a bricks and mortar religious institution like a synagogue, but are nevertheless engaged in many aspects of a faith community through social networking. Increasingly, people will say they are religious or spiritual or inspired by religious texts, but only because they have chosen to plug in and engage with social media.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Bubbie and Zaydie Enter the Social Media Cloud

Here’s my recent post for the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week


When I first logged on to Facebook in 2004 none of my real life friends had accounts yet. At that stage in the social networking site’s development, a Facebook account was only for university students (or at least anyone with a university email account). I was working at a campus Hillel and my .edu email address gave me access to Facebook so I could interface with the Jewish students on campus.

At that time it was mostly undergrads who were poking each other, updating their status, and uploading photos to Facebook. As the years went by, Facebook welcomed young adults and then high school students. The non-student users seemed to get older and older until one Baby Boomer must have finally unlocked the Facebook door and told a few friends about it. Before you knew it — urgh! — Mom and Dad were uploading profile pics and stalking the neighbors’ pages.

You can’t blame Mark Zuckerberg for transitioning the site from Ivy Leaguer college kids to anyone in the free world with a pulse. After all, you can’t get to 550 million users without welcoming the Gen X’ers, emptynesters, and Medicare recipients, right?

So, it was only a matter of time until the generation that actually remembers Prohibition started getting Facebook accounts. Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to the “friend” requests from my parents’ cadre of friends. But when I was “friended” by my wife’s 90-year-old grandmother’s friend last week, I did a double-take. This 80-year-old woman didn’t just set up a Facebook page; she’s a power user. She’s uploaded dozens of photo albums (something my parents’ friends haven’t figured out yet), joined groups, and commented on everything. She’s even got a blog and a website (“The Bubbinator.com” — I’m not kidding!) with embedded YouTube videos of her telling Jewish jokes.

Based on the latest stats, I shouldn’t be surprised about this. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project “Generations 2010” study, the fastest growth in social networking usage “has come from internet users 74 and older: social network site usage for this oldest cohort has quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%.” These great-grandparents, many of whom spent the majority of their lives without a home computer, are now using the Internet to seek health information, reconnect with friends and family, and purchase products. Facebook has even had to adjust to this new demographic storming the site. “Widowed” was certainly not a relationship option when Facebook first launched; and “It’s Complicated” just doesn’t fully describe when your husband of 55 years has passed away.

It could be that Granny realized the best way to stay connected to her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren was to meet them where they are — in Cyberspace. So don’t be surprised if your News Feed lets you know that Zaydie likes Big Band Music or your Bubbie just blogged her favorite quiche recipe. The senior citizens have entered the cloud!

Reposted to eJewishPhilanthropy.com

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Chabad’s Social Media Success

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week):

Chabad Lubavitch has always been out in front when it comes to using the Internet for publicity. Back in the 90’s, Chabad took full advantage of the virtual communities on America Online (AOL) and then launched some of the most impressive websites once everyone migrated to the Web. For years, Chabad has been a strong force in Cyberspace with “Ask the Rabbi” websites, online distance learning, and viral videos.

Today, Chabad utilizes social networking to not only broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, use Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in contests for mega grants by such corporations as Chase Community Giving and Target Stores. In last month’s Kohl’s Cares contest, twelve Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with eleven of those schools being Chabad-affiliated according to the Lubavitch.com website (Each of the finalists received a $500,000 prize).

Last January, Chabad’s Michigan-based Friendship Circle, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote. And this past summer, 17 Chabad programs across the United States each received $20,000 in the second running of the Chase challenge.

Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad.org and its social media guru explained Chabad’s secret in these online contests in a JWeekly article.

While scores of Chabad organizations may have started out as entrants in the Chase or Kohl’s challenges, the network as a whole figured out pretty quickly which ones had a serious chance of winning and then placed its chips on the potential winners. The method has proven to be especially valuable in the Kohl’s challenge, Seligson said. Each voter can vote a total of 20 times, and only five times for one school. Hypothetically that means if supporters of one school cast votes for the school five times, they each have 15 votes left. Those voters may then cast five votes each for three other Chabad schools. During the Chase challenge, it became clear that the Chabad-affiliated Friendship Circle of Michigan had a shot at winning a prize, so the other 100 Friendship Circle outposts throughout the United States rallied behind their Michigan counterpart. It’s not cheating or skirting the rules, Seligson said, it’s just actualizing a social network effectively.

Fellow Detroiter Ronelle Grier recently wrote an article on Chabad’s social networking prowess for Chabad.org. In one section of her article she writes that two Chabad leaders, the Friendship Circle’s Bassie Shemtov and “The Recovery Rabbi” Yisrael Pinson (#recoveryrabbi) were speakers at the recent #140conf in Detroit. I also attended the conference, presented by Jeff Pulver, and heard several comments from participants about how Chabad’s exploitation of social media is so impressive and a model for other organizations. Grier writes,

Rabbi Zvi Drizin, who considers social networking essential to promoting the activities of InTown Chabad, his Dallas-based organization geared toward young adults who have finished college, but are not yet married. He makes extensive use of Facebook to announce events, share interesting links and idea, and post photos taken at recent programs.

“When you decide to go to any party, the first thing you ask is who’s going to be there,” he says. “People have always moved with their friends. If you have a good network, it expands your appeal.”

At a recent Shabbat dinner, Drizin planned for 80 people. After he posted details of the event on Facebook, 150 people showed up at his door.

While Rabbi Yisrael Pinson lives and works in my community, it is really through Twitter that we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s been successful in his addiction recovery work because of his social media connections. In Grier’s article, Pinson said that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson would likely have approved of the use of such tools in the advancement of Judaism. “The Rebbe was a champion of using new tools for the promotion of Jewish values and spirituality. His talks were broadcast over the radio when that was the revolutionary medium. So too, it’s fitting for us to be at the forefront of this revolution. Social networking’s value lies in its ability to connect seemingly discordant strands of humanity. The person you meet may not be the one who can help you, but he may know the person who will end up helping you.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller